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Government-funded body launches investigation after employee spends £6,000 on chocolate over Christmas

A Hotel Chocolat shop in Victoria, London - Credit: PA

A government-funded body has launched an internal investigation after one of its employees spent thousands of pounds on high-end chocolates a few days before Christmas.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched a probe into a potential breach of its finance policies after Business Insider made it aware that £6,248.40 had been spent on a corporate credit card at Hotel Chocolat – a luxury chocolate brand – in a single day.

The transaction, dating from December 21, is the single largest made on an ICO corporate credit card in the last 10 months.

The ICO is an independent, government-funded agency that regulates data use, privacy issues, and the Freedom of Information Act. It also receives funds from private organisations who pay a “data protection fee”. In 2019-2020, the ICO received 10% of its total funding from the government.

After being asked what the agency bought from the chocolate shop for its money, an ICO spokesperson said: “This payment is currently subject to an internal investigation.”

They added: “We believe that the transaction has been made contrary to ICO policies. The ICO is committed to upholding high standards in all aspects of our financial management and controls. Should a contravention of our finance policies be confirmed, we will take appropriate action, including ensuring the payment is reimbursed.”

Jon Baines, who is chair of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, told Insider: “On the face of it, it looks extraordinary that someone at the ICO made a £6,000 card payment to Hotel Chocolat.

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, the fact the ICO published this information under public sector transparency measures shows both the benefit of those measures, and the benefit of someone taking the time to review the information.”

The most expensive chocolate available on the Hotel Chocolat website is a 147-piece collection of solid and filled chocolates and biscuits, called The Signature Cabinet. At £170, the ICO employee under investigation could have bought 36 Signature Cabinets.